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Music venues seek city’s help to survive

Thursday, June 12, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Supporting Austin’s music venues is an integral part of saving Austin’s music scene, Troy Dillinger, founder of Save Austin Music, told an Austin Live Music Task Force subcommittee last night.


The crowd was sparse– 6pm is not the best time to hear from venue owners – but Dillinger noted that music venue owners, like musicians, were facing a financial pinch from all sides. Not only did venue owners face the costs of overhead – fees, permits, advertising and alcohol – but also the sales tax that Texas heaps on live music venues as part of the sin tax, Dillinger told the subcommittee.


“Music venues are paying 14 percent sales tax, which is higher than any other business that supports live music,” Dillinger said. “In the midst of this incredible growth for the city, we’re seeing smaller audiences than ever and higher overhead. It’s getting tougher and tougher to offset the costs of doing business. At the end of the evening, there’s not much left over for the band or the venue owner.”


Music venues moved into areas only die-hard music fans would go – Sixth Street, SoCo and Red River – and those areas soon became some of the most desirable pieces of real estate in the city. Suddenly, these areas were home to lofts housing and higher-priced retail, and the rents for local music venues went through the roof.


“Who would have guessed our popularity would all but evict many of us?” asked Dillinger, whose group works to empower and connect the stakeholders in the Austin music scene.


Venue owners need the city’s help to address the crisis and to foster and encourage to live music venues in town. Dillinger said that city officials need to create an atmosphere that supports the music business. The city should adopt a new slogan, Dillinger said.


“If it’s bad for Austin music, it’s bad for Austin,” Dillinger said.


Dillinger and his group made a number of suggestions, including creation of a clear definition for live music venues that meets minimum requirements; offering financial incentives to music venues the same way the region has offered incentives to Dell and Samsung, in the name of the city’s quality of life; and making sure city planning efforts include music venues on Waller Creek and Red River.


The city also should create an advocacy office for musicians, Dillinger said. There, venue owners and musicians could get assistance in dealing with permits, zoning and other issues, as well as venue creation.


“We also should approach other Texas cities to band together and call on the Legislature to lower sales taxes for live music venues that meet certain requirements,” Dillinger said. “We need a retail tax rate, not a sin tax rate.”


Chair Paul Oveisi said the subcommittee had been reviewing some of the same issues, such as a definition for live music venues. He urged Dillinger and other venue owners to come forward because the task force represented an amazing chance to have the city’s ear on many of the issues facing music venues in the city.


Surveys are going out to various groups of stakeholders, Oveisi said. For venue owners, one of the questions is what are the highest expenses faced by venue owners. For those who want to fill out the survey, it can be found at


The Austin Live Music Task Force is made up of four subcommittees. Along with venue development, other subcommittees are addressing music districts, sound issues and networking the support the city provides to local musicians.

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